BRADENTON, Fla. -- Snooty the manatee was born when Harry S. Truman was president, Columbia records had just released its 33 1/3 LP format, and people were still talking about how the NBC television network had broadcast Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its entirety.
Life in America, of course, has changed.
But Snooty is still around, entertaining visitors, munching on lettuce and swimming silently in his tank at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
Sunday is his 65th birthday, and to mark the occasion the museum will host a free party Saturday.
He's the oldest manatee in captivity and possibly one of the oldest ever, experts say.
"If you lived in a pool where people gave you a bath and fed you lettuce by hand and you had no other predators and the water was always a nice warm temperature, you'd be living long too," said Brynne Anne Besio, executive director of the South Florida Museum. "He's protected, he's safe, he has a great diet, he has regular medical care, and so he's got all the odds for him in terms of living long."
Snooty, who is in good health, eats about 80 pounds of lettuce and vegetables every day to sustain his 1,000 pound body. He shares a tank with two smaller manatees that are being rehabilitated for cold stress. And lately, he appears thrilled to greet his visitors from the media.
"He loves cameras," said Marilyn Margold, the museum's aquarium director. Indeed, on a recent day, Snooty glided from his deep tank to a shallow medical tank and hoisted his torso above the water so he could sling a flipper onto the edge of the pool. When he spotted a video camera, he slowly inched forward toward its lens.
Snooty has been invaluable over the decades for education and conservation purposes, said Robert Bonde, a research biologist and manatee expert for the United States Geological Survey in Gainesville.
"Every year we celebrate a birthday for Snooty, it sets a new records as far as the aging potential for manatees," he said.
Bonde said that among the wild manatee carcasses found in Florida, research showed the oldest was 53 – yet the average manatee only lives to be about 13 due to man-made threats and environmental stressors, such as cold weather.
Although Snooty is the longest lived manatee in captivity, it's entirely possible that they could live just as long in the wild if they didn't face threats like boat propellers, said Bonde.
"It's tough to be a manatee in Florida," he said.
Manatees are evolutionary relatives of both elephants and dugongs (a manatee-like creature that lives mostly in waters near Australia). Both of those are long lived, said Bonde, so it makes sense that manatees would be as well.
Over the years, some have claimed that Snooty has been replaced by younger manatees. Museum officials laugh at the tales.
"That was a popular thing to do years ago: if you lose one marine mammal, you'd get another one and just give it the same name," said Margold. "In our particular case, it's not true. Snooty has two scars on his side from some abscesses that were removed over 30 years ago, and that's a real strong identification. Also he has a very predominant tail. And those two things are giveaways that it's the same Snooty."
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Margarito was named after the Jimmy Buffett song "Margaritaville." He's reportedly very friendly, often giving those in the research canoe a gentle bump to say "hello." He lost his left flipper after become entangled in monofilament fishing line. And Margarito once followed a specialist investigating a deceased manatee, and stayed with him the entire time.
Annie is an endangered West Indian manatee at Blue Spring State Park. She was rescued from the Halifax River near Port Orange, Florida. While rehabilitating at SeaWorld, Annie met another orphaned calf, Rocket. The two have been inseparable ever since. As Wayne Hartley, the Club's Manatee Specialist, put it: "Annie loves people, and Rocket loves Annie."
Howie is notorious for his antics at Blue Spring State Park. He reportedly once knocked into a canoe of researchers dumping the people and their equipment. Now, whenever he sees a canoe, he bolts and issues a distress call, according to caretakers.
Georgia, who spends her winters in Blue Spring State Park, has had a tough life. As an orphan, she was released into the wild after rebailitaion with fellow manateee Clover, who was supposed to show her how to find food, etc. But Clover soon went rogue and left Georgia on her own. Caretakers also say Georgia's tag sunk underwater, showing puncture signs of a large alligator bite. Despite her woes, Georgia is a character; she once gave a gentle nudge to a swimmer trying to climb a dock ladder and she once swam around with someone's jeans in her mouth.
Ariel is an endangered West Indian manatee rescued from Lake Worth, rehabilitated at the Miami Seaquarium, and now lives at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Caretakers say Ariel to a bit too hefty at 2,500, nearly twice the size of an average female mantee. They are trying to help her shed some pounds. Ariel is described as curious, lifting her head out of the water to hear conversations, and playful. She once pushed around a shoe of a park visitor that had fallen into the water.
Betsy is Ariel's sister and shows a similar appetite for life. Caretakers say she holds out on carrots to wait for tastier cookie-like vitamin treats. She also reportedly "smiles" at rangers just like her mother Amanda.
According to caretakers, Brutus likes to sleep in, often missing the early morning roll call. Once wake, he's quite social and shows a certain affinity for the female manatees.
Deep Dent is an endangered West Indian manatee at Blue Spring State Park with a "dent-link" scar from a propeller wound on his head. A tad on the shy side, Deep Dent is also known for his wanderlust.
Doc has his winter home at Blue Spring State Park. He's something of a ladies manatee, caretakers reports, often coupling with fellow adoptee Phyllis although he's also been spotted with Dana, Lily, and Lucille. Don't hate the player, hate the game. Caretakers also say he's protective of manatee recovering from injuries.
At home in Blue Spring State Park, Elaine sadly lost two brothers to boat injuries and her mother Emma to unknown causes. She also lost a calf to a boat but now has 4 known calves and 8 grand-calves.
Elsie is known by the nickname 'Fingers' because her tail was mangle in a boat accident and now resembles a human hand. She has five known calves.
Flash is one of the first manatees to arrive at Blue Springs State Park for the winter. He earned his name, caretakers say, because he is quick to startle and will swim away "in a flash" if disturbed.
This manatee got her name due to the scars on her back that resemble a flickering candle.
Floyd only has half a tail after a boat strike. Caretakers note he is playful; he sometimes gives researchers a little nudge from behind, pushing them out of the water. He even nudges himself into other manatees in front of cameras.
Lily, who makes her winter home at Blue Spring State Park, often nurses orphaned calves. She even became a foster mother to a cold-stressed young calf named Foster.
Lorelei was the first manatee ever born and bred in captivity. She was born at the Miami Seaquarium to parents Romeo and Juliet. She reportedly does tricks like barrel rolls when accepting nutritional treats.
Robin is the son of a manatee named Wonder Woman, and he shows some superhero-like courage as well. Caretakers report that when a group of manatees was startled by a loud noise, Robin could be seen calm in the middle of them, working his way back upstream.
Rosie is a big manatee, weighing 2,500 pounds. Nicknamed "the babysitter" of Homosassa Springs, she is known for being gentle, kind, and maternal. She is also known for hogging the "Manatee Salad Bar," where the park's manatees feed.
Squeaky was just born in 2011, and still stays close to mom Amber. Researchers once caught Squeaky trying to scratch her belly on the bottom of a canoe.
Vector got his name because of the large triangular-shaped scar on the right side of his body. He spends his winters cozied up in waters near Tampa Bay's Tampa Electric power plant.